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Taste in An Age of Endless Choice

By Tom Vanderbilt
13-minute read
Audio available
You May Also Like: Taste in An Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt

You May Also Like (2016) dives into the ever-changing world of taste, or what you like and why you like it. Trying to guess whether a consumer will enjoy a movie or buy a product is both tricky science and big business, as a myriad of different factors influences the decisions you make daily.

  • Pop culture enthusiasts
  • Social psychologists
  • Marketers or consumers curious about what influences taste

Tom Vanderbilt is a writer whose work on culture, technology and design has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal, among others. He’s also a contributing editor for Wired and Artforum, and the author of the bestselling book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us).

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You May Also Like

Taste in An Age of Endless Choice

By Tom Vanderbilt
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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You May Also Like: Taste in An Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt
Synopsis

You May Also Like (2016) dives into the ever-changing world of taste, or what you like and why you like it. Trying to guess whether a consumer will enjoy a movie or buy a product is both tricky science and big business, as a myriad of different factors influences the decisions you make daily.

Key idea 1 of 8

Many factors help determine what we like, but most preferences stem from pleasurable associations.

Picking a favorite color may seem straightforward, but expressing such a preference is complicated, as it is based on many different factors.

Preferences are both categorical and contextual. While you may treasure your favorite blue sweater, a blue egg would certainly be unappealing. What’s more, even though you wear your blue sweater every weekend, at the office you might prefer to wear only black clothes.

Taste is also constructed. If you’re asked about a favorite color, movie or song, you probably will pick the first good example you can think of and then come up with a reason to justify your preference.

Another factor is that humans are inherently comparative. From childhood onward, it is often the case that we simply like the things that other people like.

And aside from a few exceptions, taste is rarely congenital. The genes we inherit from parents and grandparents don’t inform our individual preferences. When it comes to preferences for certain colors or foods, a better explanation for personal choice is to consider the item’s association with things that are pleasurable.

For instance, many people prefer the color blue, as it evokes peaceful, pleasant things such as a clear, sunny sky or the ocean.

One German study found that adults are influenced by pleasures experienced as an infant. In the study, participants tried two different kinds of tomato ketchup: one natural and one flavored with vanilla. Interestingly, participants who were raised on baby formula preferred the vanilla-flavored ketchup. Researchers connected the dots: as German baby formula contains vanilla flavoring, they discovered that participants had unconsciously associated that flavor with the infant pleasure of being fed.

This kind of association applies to color as well; but like many preferences, it can change over time.

Children instinctively are attracted to yellow-brownish colors, and researchers believe that this could be because these colors remind of a mother’s nipple. But as children grow older, they lose this preference, as other things that are yellow-brown – such as feces or vomit – have unfavorable associations.

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